Your Local Food Shelf Needs That Extra Package of Pasta You Aren't Using

Ken Williams who runs the Food Operation at Cameron Ministries.

Ken Williams who runs the Food Operation at Cameron Ministries.

I go to a lot of fundraisers in Rochester.

Many of them are political fundraisers to support candidates for election who I hope to have represent us. It's a thing we do around here. But others are particular occasions to raise funds to support community projects, or neighborhoods, or people in need.

Friday night's was "A Taste of Cameron" -- a quite magnificent event held in the Atrium at City Hall to support Cameron Ministries -- an urban outreach community center serving the Lyell-Otis area of Northwest Rochester.

Their group serves a neighborhood where 98% of the residents live in poverty. Yes, you read that right. Some 98% of the residents in this part of Rochester can't pay their bills. Talk about a reality check.

I actually spent one of my high school years living with my mother on Freeland Street in this neighborhood. And, my step-father grew up on Sherman Street. But that was before the demise of Kodak and International Trade agreements tore the guts out of neighborhoods like this one by killing the jobs that used to support middle class working families.

The Taste of Cameron had offerings from a ton of great local restaurants, a slew of wine and beer tastings, a silent auction and even a chorus of singers to entertain us. Kudos go to all the businesses in Rochester who support events like this one. And, congratulations to Debra Bishop who is Chair of the Board for a really great fundraiser.

But there was one table in particular that wasn't giving away free samples of anything ... unless you include the lesson I learned from Ken Williams, who runs the Food Operation at Cameron Ministries.

Cameron has an after school program as well as a free clothing outreach. But First and foremost, they have to feed people. Lunch is served Monday through Saturday.  Sundays at 4:30 they have a celebration dinner.

They also run an Food Cupboard, and the table I found myself lingering at was a display of what it takes to feed a family of four for three days. Soups and cereal. Some pasta and Beans. Tuna Fish. A box of Jello.

But I never realized the magnitude of what it takes to feed the 1,300 families a place like Cameron takes care of every day of the year.

1,300 families. That's a lot of canned veggies.

Friday night's lesson inspired me. We give a little to our local food pantries. When we close our cottage for the year, we always drop off the stuff left in the cupboards to the local food campaign. And, there's a lot of times over the year when I take stuff left over from our events to House of Mercy (one of the big hits was the 50 leftover cupcakes I had from Molly's surprise birthday party this year!)

But the people that run Cameron Ministries do it 365 days a year. They do it on a shoestring, and they're an example of the type of people doing great work all over our community for not much money, but with a whole lot of caring.

We're about to enter the Holiday season. They're even calling for a little snow in the air. And what Ken Williams who was staffing the Cameron Food Cupboard table reminded me is that at this time of year, people living in poverty right down the street need our help more than ever.

We've got a Poverty initiative underway in Rochester that is working to eliminate poverty in fifteen years. And, over at places like the United Way they do an incredible job attacking the problem from the big picture point of view.

But I'm suggesting that you can do a whole lot to help your neighbors by doing something right now.

The next time you're at the grocery store, buy a little extra to give away. You won't even notice the cost at the check out, but the return on investment for your heart will be immense in comparison.

It doesn't have to be Cameron Ministries -- though I know they need it. But if you do just a tiny bit of looking, I'm sure there's a food cupboard right in your own neighborhood.

Like I said, it's good for your heart.

A Baker's Dozen on Why You Should Thank Unions

President John F. Kennedy once said, "The American Labor Movement has consistently demonstrated its devotion to the public interest. It is, and has been, good for all America."

On this Labor Day, 2016, it's good to remember what Labor Unions have brought us -- particularly today when workers' rights are under attack on the federal, state and even the local level with such insidious enthusiasm.

Here's a baker's dozen reasons why we should take a moment this Labor Day to thank people who care enough about their neighbors to be in a union and to appreciate what Organized Labor has brought us.

  1. The weekend
  2. The 8-hour Work Day
  3. Overtime Pay
  4. Minimum Wage
  5. The 40-hour Work Week
  6. Unemployment Insurance
  7. Child Labor Laws
  8. The Age Discrimination and Employment Ac of 1967
  9. The American With Disabilities Act
  10. Workers Comp
  11. Social Security
  12. The Equal Pay Acts of 1963 & 2011 requiring equal pay for women.

I'm a proud card carrying member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO. And, for the couple of decades I spent working for labor unions in the local building trades, I received the Rochester Labor Council's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007.

They were the best years of my life and, there's probably nothing I enjoy more than sitting around telling war stories about those "good old days" which really were just yesterday.

A lot of people say that Organized Labor's day has passed. People think that the days of business and government beating down striking workers and using their power to devastate working families is a thing from another time. Ancient history. Something out of the nineteenth century.

I'm here to tell you that it isn't so. The need for the protection of the rights of working families is even greater today than ever before.

And since I promised you a "baker's dozen" reasons, here's a story from early in my career that provides yet another.

Back in June of 1996, over 1,500 labor activists gather in Cleveland, Ohio to do something historic -- found a political party that would truly speak for working families. It was called the Labor Party, and its founder, Tony Mazzocchi -- head of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union -- was fond of the slogan, "The bosses have two parties. We need to have one of our own."

His idea inspired a couple of dozen of Rochester's Union leaders in the Building Trades to make the trek to Ohio and, I was among them -- slated to speak before the convention representing what was then Bricklayers Local 11. I wasn't a Bricklayer, I was a speechwriter and Steve Remington, who was then the Business Manager of the Local asked that I do it as my speaking skills would better express the sentiment of the members.

I labored over my words carefully, inspired by the task and the responsibility of speaking for the men and women of the craft. But when my time came to speak, I threw away those preciously prepared words in favor of speaking extemporaneously -- inspired by a guy I met in the hotel bar the night before.

Prior to that moment, I had been one of those people who believed that much of the violence that characterized the early days of the movement was over. Contracts, I believed, were agreed to in a civil manner, and strikes were just so much theatre.

But it just so happened that at the same time we were holding the convention, members of the Newspaper Guild and the Teamsters from the delivery facilities of the Detroit Newspapers were striking in the Motor City. While I was in the hotel bar, I literally fell over a guy in a wheel chair wearing his motorcycle colors, who was behind me in the crowded room and who I didn't see. I offered my apologies, bought him a beer, and we found a space at a table in the corner. Sadly, I don't remember his name, but the meeting was to be pivotal in my life.

"What are you here for?" he asked. I told him of my mission and returned the question.

"I'm a Teamster on strike from the delivery facility of the Detroit Free Press," he replied. And I couldn't help but notice that his wheelchair seemed to me to be somewhat of a obstacle to his throwing around bundles of newsprint.

At this point we were joined by a guy who was obviously a fellow Teamster, and my new friend pointed to him after noticing the look on my face.

"It's his fault," he said, and he pointed upward.

The story he told sends a shiver down own my spine to this day. (Note that I have cleaned up the language a bit for sensitive readers.)

"See, we work together over at the plant. And, last year on the day it was our turn to walk the picket line at the strike I stopped answering my telephone. I was looking at it as just another day off to work on my bike when this jerk knocked on my door to tell me it was time to go. I told him where to stuff it, but he's my partner so I had to go. We jumped on the motorcycles and off we went.

When we got there, there was a whole lot of guys there on the line and the bosses had beefed up security. In fact, they were doing a lot of intimidation at that point -- sending cars to neighborhoods where our Union leaders live. Following their kids to school. Harassing their wives in the supermarket. Crap like that.

We took our place on the line and kept on moving, marching in a long circle along the sidewalk, when suddenly, from out'a nowhere two big-butted guys randomly grabbed me -- Pinkertons, they were. And, while about a dozen of their buddies held back everyone else, they beat me so badly that I've been in this wheelchair ever since."

I was speechless.

The other Teamster then said, "Yeah -- this guy's one of the keynote speakers tomorrow." And then added, "You guys want another beer?"

Needless to say that when I gave my "warm-up" speech early the next morning I was inspired in a different way. This guy, who hadn't even been a strong Union guy -- was sitting in a wheelchair because he exercised his rights. And now, rather than sit by feeling sorry for himself, was one of the strongest advocates for action I had ever met before -- or since.

The tactics of vilolence had failed. Rather than intimidate him, they made him stronger.

When my new-found friend wheeled down the center aisle in the convention hall the next day, the crowd did something he couldn't ... they gave him a standing ovation. And believe you me, there wasn't a dry eye in the place by the time it was over and he told his story.

He gave one of the most inspiring speeches I have ever heard from a Union guy. He changed my life and I remembered him often over the next twenty plus years I worked for Unions.

So, while you're having a hot dog today, or cracking another cold one and running around with the kids, maybe you can take a moment to remember that the rights for working families you enjoy are delicate. They didn't come from some far off march a couple of centuries ago. They were won just yesterday by guys and gals in the mail room, and on the factory floor, and on picket lines who were just like you and me, but who paid a bigger price than we will (hopefully) ever have to.



Coffee Connection and Legislator James Sheppard Team Up for Training

Each year, thousands of families in New York State are struck with the tragedy of having a loved one die from abuse and overdose of opioids. In case you didn't know it (I certainly didn't) that's addiction to prescription drugs that many of us have right in our own medicine cabinets.

County Legislator James Sheppard wants to do something about it, so he is partnering with the folks over at the Women's Coffee Connection's Greenhouse Cafe on East Main Street to put together a training session that is really special.

The Coffee Connection is a very special place in our community where women who are recovering from their own addictions have come together to provide jobs, support and a second chance.

Legislator Sheppard is keenly aware of the devastating effects of this problem through his work with the Rochester Police Department as well as with kids in city schools and at the Center for Youth.

The use of Narcan to revive victims of overdose long enough for acute medical care has become an easy and viable way to save lives. But, the careful administration of it requires some elementary training.

The Coffee Connection and Legislator Sheppard are sponsoring that training next week with the help of the great people over at Strong Memorial Hospital.  This training is designed for patients, families, medical personnel, and just about anyone who wants to help save lives.

The session -- which lasts about an hour and a half -- will be held on Monday, September 12th from 6:30 to 8:00 at the Greenhouse Cafe, 2271 East Main Street in Rochester.

If you're interested, you can contact Mr. Sheppard at or by calling him at 474-2260.

It could be a couple of hours that helps save the life of someone you care about.

Neighbors, Councilmember Clifford, the Mayor and Senator Schumer Host Pool Party

In these first long hot days of summer, everyone would love to have a pool in their backyard, right?

Not if you’re one of the neighbors who live along West Boulevard Parkway and back up to the railroad tracks. Because the pool they have is standing, stagnant water created by debris, brush and tree limbs along the CSX right of way.

And apparently, CSX could care less about the mosquitos that breed there.

That is until now.

With concerns about Zika and West Nile Virus, neighbors turned to City Councilmember Molly Clifford for help. They had repeatedly contacted CSX about the problem, but without success. And so, Ms. Clifford brought out the big guns. She contacted Chris Zeltmann, Senator Chuck Schumer’s guy in the Rochester office who asked his boss if he could intervene.

Now, I have to tell you that I’ve known Senator Schumer since he first ran for office and, there is nobody … and I mean NOBODY who cares more about the people he represents than Senator Schumer.

Not only did he write a letter to CSX, he’s coming to Rochester today to view the situation first hand.

This afternoon at 1:30, the Senator, Mayor and Councilmember Clifford will hold a press conference on John Coleman’s backyard deck overlooking the stagnant pool.

Mr. Coleman will be joined by a couple of other neighbors -- Cory Tylenda and Nancy Owens -- as well as Norm Jones, the City’s Commissioner of Environmental Services.

Maybe this time, CSX will do something about it. All that’s needed is for CSX to give it’s ok to use the right of way. The City will provide the clean-up.

Funny how sometimes it takes an act of congress to solve a simple problem. But with everyone jumping into the pool, so to speak – the West Boulevard neighbors, Councilmember Clifford, Commissioner Jones, the Mayor and Senator Schumer – maybe it will get done.

Please Note: In the ever-important interest of complete disclosure, readers should note that Councilmember Clifford is my significant other of almost 20 years.



Laborers Local 435 Re-Elects Dan Kuntz as Leader

Dan Kuntz, a second generation member of Laborers Local Union 435 has been reelected to a three-year term as Business Manager.

Kuntz has been active in Union activities for decades, having served as an officer and / or trustee for the Laborers Union, The Rochester Building Trades Council and the Rochester Labor Council. In addition, Kuntz is on the Board of the WIT Federal Credit Union and a member of the Rochester Rotary Club.

The Laborers Union is one of the most community-minded Locals in the area. They do everything from annual food drives for the needy to sponsorship and participating in community events such as the United Way’s Day of Caring. They recently hosted former President Clinton when he visited Rochester.

Lakeside Farmers Market in Charlotte Starts Second Season

Last year – in the cold weeks of winter -- a bunch of Charlotte Community neighbors gathered around Pat O’Neill’s dining room table to talk about starting a Farmer’s Market in Charlotte. Six months later, that hardy … and by then very tired … bunch gathered again to marvel at their achievement.

It was a whole summer of activity. Every Monday. Hundreds of visitors each week!

This Monday, June 13th, when the Lakeside Farmers Market at the Port of Charlotte enters its second year, they’ll get to marvel again at what a few dedicated people can create.

The same team is still there: Maryanne Warfle, Pam Postgate O’Neill, Kellie Lewis, Kathy Strauss, and Matt and Jalen Juda – but this time with reinforcements. They’ve got Robert Putney and Elizabeth Carey of ImpactEarth contracted to help run things.

This couple – founders of the Zero Waste Project (which will be the subject of a whole other blog post!) – are helping farmers’ markets throughout the community take on the massive logistics of running an operation every week through rain and sleet and heat and … marketing and advertising and administration and all the other things that go into making a market successful.

They also manage some other markets throughout Rochester including Pittsford Village Community Farmers Market, the Churchville Community Farmers Market and Macedon Farmers Market.

The Lakeside Market – which runs through the summer every Monday at the corner of Stutson Street and Lake Ave from 4:00 – 7:00, is located in the parking lot next to Hose 22.

There are some old friends and some new ones among vendors including Bozza Pasta, Farmhouse Table, Shady Lane Farms, Camman Acres, Lagoner Farms, Wholly Cheeses, Florida Nut House, Jackie’s Jams and Jellies and Deconinck Farms.

And they have room for more. (Craft vendors, too!) Anyone interested should contact

But what’s really amazing is that these folks are accomplishing something exciting and great in Charlotte … when there were lots of people who told them they would fail.

Congratulations to these community leaders. You really are living up to your motto of “Building a Community with Local Ingredients”!


NeighborWorks Rochester Names Pam Postgate "Northwest Community Champion"

Sometimes, you meet people who are really special. While everyone else is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, they just keep moving forward. Steady. Sure. Committed.

Pam Postgate of Charlotte is one of those people. While everyone else seems to spend their time complaining, criticizing, and generally being counterproductive, she rolls up her sleeves and gets things done.

Even when everyone tells her it will never happen.

In the meantime, she does things like: create the Stutson Street block club, organize beach and overlook clean-ups, and jumpstarts the Lakeside Farmers Market.

That's why she was just named Northwest Community Champion by NeighborWorks Rochester and cited for her hard work.   So if you see Pam today, just tell her thanks and give her a smile. I'm sure she'll have one for you!

AT ISSUE: UNITE ROCHESTER Challenge finalist moves forward

Note: This Speaking Out Essay appeared in the Sunday Democrat & Chronicle's Printed Edition

by Carla Palumbo and Ken Warner

It’s been almost six months since Democrat and Chronicle’s Unite Rochester Challenge competition brought together over 100 ideas from people in our community to combat poverty and racism.

We’re proud of the fact that our submission — “It’s a Crime to Be Poor” — was one of the top 10 finalists and that we got to present our idea to a distinguished panel of judges and the community at large.

Our idea was inspired by African-American writer James Baldwin who once said: “Anyone who has ever struggled with poverty knows how extremely expensive it is to be poor.”

Right here in Rochester City Court, the mandatory enforcement of State Vehicle and Traffic laws often has unintended consequences for families and the community. The administration of financial penalties and sentencing for infractions is a prime example of how minorities and poor people are unjustly targeted for extreme punishment.

Because of state mandates, City Courts are bound by strict regulations on unpaid fines that often leave judges no options but jail time and little leeway in either payment plans or alternative sentencing.

Unpaid fines multiply like ants at a picnic, and a ticket as harmless as a parking violation or an infraction like a broken tail light can eventually lead to suspension of a driver’s license or felonies resulting in jail time. Offenders end up losing jobs. Families break up. The consequences become an obstacle to future employment.

We proposed to advocate for a change in state law similar to what our neighbors to the west in Buffalo have already done — create their own process for handling these cases.

We didn’t win the competition — but we knew we had a good idea.

Since that, time, we’ve been talking to people throughout the community and we’re happy to report that the community listened. On Thursday morning, the Rochester City Council voted unanimously to send Home Rule Legislation to Albany to make it happen.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the City of Rochester will follow Buffalo’s lead by instituting our own City Traffic Violations Agency that will go far in eliminating the unintended consequences of current laws.

This is a great first step. We still have work to do to advocate for a change in state law allowing judges more flexibility to deal with other traffic issues such as Aggravated Unlicensed Operation. We will continue to work toward that change.

But, one thing is for sure, without the Democrat and Chronicle’s Unite Rochester Challenge, this may never have happened. We may not have won the $5,000 prize, but the community wins in ways that can’t be counted.

Carla Palumbo is President and CEO for Legal Aid Society of Rochester NY, and Ken Warner, who retired from UNICON as Executive Director in 2015, is a local writer and community activist.